If you love working out at home, in the gym or on the trails, no doubt you’ve got performance wear in your wardrobe. Those basics include shirts, tanks, pullovers and bottoms that “perform” along with you – as you sweat or work out in different weather conditions, whether it’s hot, cold, windy or raining. The most common performance feature is moisture-wicking, where the fabric pulls sweat away from your body to keep you cool and comfortable as you raise your heart rate. Get ready to learn how to decorate and care for these popular activewear pieces, whether you’re wearing or selling them.
What Types of Fabric ‘Perform’?
When we talk about athletic or performance wear, we’re referring to apparel that offers lots of flexibility and comfort for easy movement when you’re running, playing tennis, lifting weights or doing your favorite exercise routine. In general, performance wear is made from breathable, moisture-wicking fabric that keeps your body cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold.
Here’s a rundown of the most popular performance fabrics you’ll find at retail.
First, let’s look at a couple of natural fabrics.
Cotton: One of the best materials for activewear, cotton is breathable and lightweight. Performance wear made from 100% cotton works well for outdoor activities where you benefit from breathability or you won’t be sweating profusely. Remember, cotton takes longer than other fabrics, like polyester, to dry. If you’re out in the cold and sweating, a 100% cotton shirt probably isn’t your best option. Of course, cotton is also often blended with synthetic fibers for activewear. Since 100% cotton holds moisture, wearing a blended shirt helps pull moisture away from the body faster and keep you dry when you’re working out.
Bamboo: People love this natural because it’s lightweight, soft, breathable, antimicrobial, UV-protective and moisture-wicking. Also known as a “sustainable” fabric, bamboo is a renewable resource and the fabric can be considered biodegradable. You’ll find bamboo in lots of different types of performance wear, from shirts to pants to pullovers.
Activewear is most commonly made from synthetic technical fabrics, which are stretchy and breathable. They come in a wide variety of fabrics, including smooth jersey to large-holed meshes, to piques and rib knits. Let’s break down a few of the most common fabric types.
Polyester: One of the most-used performance fabrics, polyester is long-lasting, lightweight, fast-drying and breathable. If you’re sweating a lot during your high-intensity cardio workouts, a poly workout garment is perfect for you!
Nylon: This is another durable fabric that’s ideal for activewear. Nylon isn’t known for being as moisture-wicking as polyester, but it offers a lot of stretch (and stretch recovery) for easy movement and garments that retain their shape.
Brand-Name Tech Fabrics: If you’ve shopped at any retail sportswear store, you’ll see lots of trademarked brand-name performance fabrics. You’ll find many of these brands available at wholesale for you to decorate and sell. Spandex, also known as Lycra and elastane, is often used in activewear because of its stretch for ease of movement, stretch recovery, breathability, as well as quick-drying and moisture-wicking properties. Nike’s Dri-Fit is another ubiquitous brand-name fabric that’s known for its stretch and high-evaporation, moisture-wicking ability.
Our Favorite Decoration Techniques for Activewear
Whether you’re creating some logoed performance shirts for a gym or team, or decorating activewear tanks to sell in your Etsy shops, some imprinting techniques that work better than others. Let’s break them down right here.
Heat press printing: Decorators love that you can achieve the vibrant, full-color look of screen printing with a heat transfer, without needing to use screens or messy inks. The low-cost process is pretty simple: You place a design transfer on a blank shirt or other garment. You close the heat press and the design gets “pressed” onto the shirt with heat and pressure in a minute or less, so the ink or vinyl melts and adheres to the shirt. You remove the transfer backing and the design is on the t-shirt!
For performance wear, you’ll often see heat press printing used for smaller logos and labels. (Imagine any Nike or adidas logo on a t-shirt or tank that you own.) A con of this method is that if you apply the transfer incorrectly, it can start peeling off after being worn, washed and dried.
Direct-to-film transfers: Unlike direct-to-garment printing that only works with cotton fabrics, DTF transfers work on a variety of fabrics including cotton, polyester, 50/50 blends, synthetics like nylon, rayon, treated leather and even silk. DTF transfers also work equally well on both white and dark t-shirts, unlike some other printing methods. This full-color, long-lasting technique works great for all types of performance fabrics.
Sublimation printing: This durable decorating method is one of the best you can use on polyester fabrics. Also known as dye sublimation, this imprinting method is so popular because of the high-quality, full-color results it produces. T-shirt sublimation uses a heat source to print images and text onto the fabric. In fact, when you use heat with a sublimated design, the ink or dye actually sinks into the t-shirt material, becoming a permanent part of the fabric. The pros are that you can print vibrant, full-color designs onto performance wear. Sublimation is a better choice when you want to print a large design on activewear. A limitation of dye-sub is that you can only sublimate polyester fabrics.
Screen printing: It’s a good idea to choose the right inks for synthetic performance wear if you’re screen printing. Many experienced decorators recommend using low-bleed inks that cure for longer times at lower temperatures. Sometimes, super-stretchy fabrics don’t take screen printing as well as they take sublimation printing. Check out the fabric blends to decide whether screen printing is the right option for that garment. It’s a smart idea to test print shirts to see what works best.
Direct-to-garment printing: You DTG print shirts with a “desktop printer” setup that uses textile inks – great for fast, affordable printing for smaller runs. Unfortunately, DTG printing might not be the best choice for darker performance wear garments. You could end up with lower-resolution prints that aren’t as durable as other methods. Like screen printing, it makes sense to experiment with DTG on different activewear fabrics to see where you can get the sharpest details and color gradients with a soft-hand print.
Embroidery: Probably the least desirable decorating method for thin, stretchy performance fabrics, stitching these garments can be a challenge even for veteran embroiderers. A stretchier fabric requires the right design and the correct backing to support the embroidery. Watching tutorials on embroidering stretchy fabric and experimenting with these fabrics will help you decide if you want to stitch activewear.
How to Care for Decorated Performance Wear
Ready for expert tips on how to keep your activewear looking better, for longer? Check out these eight ways to give your favorite performance shirts some TLC.
1. Let your clothes “breathe” before you launder them. After you work out, try to hang your clothes rather than tossing them into a hamper. That way, they can dry out first, so it’s easier to get sweaty odors out.
2. Wash your gym clothes in cold water. Washing activewear in hot water can break down the elasticity of your stretchy fabrics. This can lead to shrinkage and a much shorter lifespan of your favorite tank top or workout pants.
3. Don’t dry your clothes on high heat. Hot air, like hot water, also damages your workout duds. A better option is to air-dry them or to use the lowest possible dryer heat setting.
4. Say no to fabric softeners. Whether it’s a dryer sheet or a liquid, fabric softeners can damage stretchy fabrics and actually add a coating that traps sweaty smells.
5. Turn your clothes inside out before washing. It’s a well-known tip to do this before washing and drying your clothes. However, it’s especially important for activewear, since doing this it’ll expose the “sweatier” areas (and smells and bodily bacteria) more directly to the water and detergent. Plus, it’ll protect your decoration.
6. Try a sports detergent. These formulations contain natural odor fighters to deeply clean synthetics and moisture-wicking fabrics of the odor-causing bacteria.
7. But, don’t overuse detergent. You’ll end up with soap buildup, which actually encourages sweat buildup and stinkier garments.
8. Use an odor eliminator. You can use a synthetic product or try adding a half-cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle for a natural alternative.
Shop Threadsy for Activewear Garments
It’s time to start decorating performance wear! Threadsy is a great online destination for buying performance wear t-shirts and other garments at wholesale prices. If you’ve been shopping for blank activewear garments from a big box retailer, it’s time to stop.
Threadsy offers generous discounts for customers who purchase t-shirts, joggers, pullovers and other apparel in larger quantities. Our bulk discount program starts at $110, and the savings up to 15% automatically appear in your cart when you bundle your items. You’ll also enjoy free shipping on orders $50 or higher, with always-fast delivery.
Plus, unlike other retailers that tack on fees for everything from orders that don’t meet a certain purchase threshold, to packing your order to processing returns, Threadsy doesn’t do that. There’s no minimum order, returns are free for 30 days, and we’ll never charge you extra money to pack your order. So what are you waiting for? Start shopping and saving today on t-shirts and other activewear garments.